Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots In London - A View From The Barber's Shop

My barber, a Turkish man in his early thirties who always insists on calling me sir, was standing outside his shop watching while the plate glass windows were boarded up. Nevertheless, he was adamant that he was still open for business. The fact that there are riots going on in London at the moment and that the previous night the baker's shop two doors down was looted did not deter him. Nor was he impressed by the advice from local police that he go home early. 'Why should I?' he demanded. 'I've got a living to earn. They are supposed to be keeping law and order.'

'This is what you get when you start cutting everything,' he told me, although he made it clear that he had no sympathy with the rioters. Criminals, that's all they were. But where was the Prime Minister while the criminals were taking over the capital? Sitting on his backside in Tuscany, that's where.

Nobody in London can talk about anything else. Western power is draining down the economic plughole but that's too large a concept for people to really come to terms with. But a bunch of thugs in hoodies kicking in shop fronts and helping themselves to phones and watches - that's something that everyone has an opinion about. Some think the police are doing a bad job, some maintain it's the government's fault, others insist that it's down to smoking too much skunk.

While the metropolis watches in horrified fascination as it engages in a bout of spontaneous self-harm, I'm busy trying to finish a novel. Getting my hair cut was a ritual act of preparation for the last big push. From now on there can be no more hair cuts until it's finished, proof-read and emailed to my agent.

That's the thing about fiction. It's not like journalism. At least, not for me. It's not about what is happening around you right now. It's about what happened, or didn't happen, or might have happened in the past, or what could happen, or fail to happen in the future. It's about parallel worlds not the real world, about rearranging reality not reporting it, about characters not politicians or celebrities or even criminals.

Which is why I had no opinion whatsoever to offer my barber on the subject of the riots. But that was okay. He had enough for both of us and there were plenty of people waiting in line who were ready to pitch in with their particular angle.

He held up the mirror to show me the back of my head and I told him it was great. He brushed me down, handed my bag and I gave him his money. He thanked me for my custom and I went on my way. It had been an interesting diversion but I was glad to be leaving reality behind.

2 comments:

Derek said...

That's a great definition of fiction and its power to enthral both the writer and the reader. Hopefully things are much calmer now.

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